It was telling: Kirsten Moore-Towers burst into an ugly cry against the chest of her partner, Michael Marinaro, as soon as they took their final pose after the short program at the world championships in Milan on Wednesday.
Surely they were tears of joy? They had just nailed it, big time: triple twist, whopper of a throw triple loop, triple toe loops done in synch, steps, death spirals, spins, you name it. And for their troubles, they earned 70.49 points, only .40 less than the best short-program score of their career together.
Surely tears of joy?
More likely tears of relief mixed with joy. Add to that disbelief, perhaps.
These Canadian bronze medalists had mountains to climb at this world championship, only their second together. They were up against it at every turn. The trip to Milan was troublesome. They were to change flights in Frankfurt, but the flight to Milan was cancelled. Chaos reigned. Moore-Towers and Marinaro ended up taking separate flights to Milan after long waits in a busy airport.
This bit of gut-wrenching stuff that comes with world-wide travel was nothing compared to the injury Moore-Towers faced in the weeks leading up to the world championships. After finishing 11th at the Olympics in Pyeongchang, Moore-Towers injured an ankle two weeks before Milan.
Believe it or not, their short program in Milan marked their first run-through of it since the Olympics. “It was a little bit tricky because we were coming in a little bit unknown as to how it would go AND IF WE COULD SKATE,” Moore-Towers said. So they stayed in their bubble, she said, and put one foot in front of the other.
The long program threw more stress onto a stressful situation with the unexpected ouster of Canadian silver medalists Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau. Two falls in the short program dropped them to 17th place, and they missed the cut (top 16) for the free skate. Young team Camille Ruest and Drew Wolfe had also missed the cut. (They lost their luggage, including their costumes and Wolfe’s skates on the flight to Milan. Wolfe borrowed a pair of boots, but he had never skated with that sort of blade before – with a different rocker, a different mount, a different sharpening – and he had three practices to get used to them. Just before he and Ruest went to the rink for the short program, they found out the bags were in Frankfurt, but it was far too late to help. Their first world championship was a misery.)
So it was entirely up to Moore-Towers and Marinaro to try to win as many spots for Canadian pairs for the next world championship. Imagine. There was no two-time world champion Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford to help. The country’s pair torchbearers had retired after winning bronze at the Olympics.
“We felt the pressure of being the only [Canadian] team to get the spot for worlds next season, which is quite a unique situation for us,” Moore-Towers said. “There was a lot riding on it.”
She said she made a conscious effort to be honest about what could happen when they stepped onto the ice for the long program. “I wasn’t even sure I would make it to the end,” she said. “’Fake it until you make it’ is our theme this week.”
If there was a personal struggle taking place throughout the free program, it didn’t show. They skated to “Un Ange Passe” with lyrics about “misery of miseries/When suddenly on the horizon/An angel passes/and with a blow of wing erases our anxieties.” Truthfully, Moore-Towers and Marinario just had to do it themselves.
And they did. The triple twist passed without a hitch. They muddled through a double Axel – loop-triple Salchow, jumping at different times, losing a few bonus points. Moore-Towers gutsily held onto the landing of a throw triple loop. OF course, the Axel Lasso lift got them a level four, with huge bonuses. They landed triple toe loops as if one, on a whisper. Their change foot combo spin was slightly off. They chalked up all sorts of level fours, and positive GOEs. When they finished, it was as if they had run a marathon on one leg.
They had been tenth in the short program, and all they had to do was maintain that top-10 spot to allow Canada to send two teams to the next world championship. Their score: 133.84 for the free – a personal best. Their overall total of 204.33 points was a milestone, the first time they had broken 200. (What could they have done without the ankle injury?)
As it was, Moore-Towers ended up sixth at their second world championship together. And most miraculously, they were fourth in the free skate, tucked in just behind the high-flying medalists.
They’ll collect their luggage, put away their skates for a bit and come home, all the wiser and stronger. This was a victory of sorts, of mind over matter, of thought over muscle, of determination over dread.